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Reclaimed water wins converts

Thousands look forward to purple door hangers, greener lawns and lower bills.

By BILL COATS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 24, 2002


LUTZ -- Workers were laying reclaimed water lines along Cheval Boulevard last week.

Other workers were pressure testing similar lines in the Eagles.

Over the last two months, 230 homeowners in Westwood Lakes, and 130 in Van Dyke Farms, have applied to connect their houses to new reclaimed water lines there.

It is one of the biggest years the county's water recycling program has experienced in north Hillsborough County. By winter, the coveted service is likely to be available to more than 2,500 households that have not had access to it before.

"I think we'll probably have several thousand connections coming on line this year," said Troy MacDonald, a senior manager in the Hillsborough County Water Department, which administers the reclaimed water program.

The reason for the expansion is simple. Homeowners with reclaimed water -- treated sewer water -- can water their lawns more, yet pay less. Their use of scarce drinking water declines markedly.

The county charges $9 a month for reclaimed water, with no limit on use. A household using 15,000 gallons of drinkable water a month pays double that apart from basic fees, and is limited to one day of lawn watering a week.

When the county extends reclaimed water into a neighborhood, homeowners are assessed for the costs of that work. But that expense is offset by water bill savings.

County staffers projected that a large-lot home in the Eagles will incur a $290 annual assessment for 20 years, yet save $550 a year in water bills.

"I outright predict our water and sewer bill decreasing $30, $40, $50 a month during the prime watering season," said Mark Krekorian, who lives in a patio home in Cheval. Most of that development's older, eastern half, called Cheval East, is getting reclaimed water.

Krekorian fondly remembers the impact of reclaimed water when he lived in Carrollwood Village, one of the area's earliest recipients.

"The areas that had it, the lawns looked very, very nice," he said. "And the lawns that didn't have it didn't look as nice."

Marie Dreyfus, another Cheval resident, recycles water already, but on a smaller scale. After cooking vegetables, Mrs. Dreyfus pours the used water on her flower garden.

"The use of water is wasted," she said. "We take water for granted."

Years ago, as vice mayor of Longboat Key, Mrs. Dreyfus participated in meetings advocating reclaimed water. More recently, she attended a planning meeting for Cheval's system at Gaither High School, and encountered a neighbor who had used reclaimed water in Saudi Arabia.

"I thought, 'If we can do it outside the United States, why can't we do it here?' "

Cheval East's installation is contracted to Knight Enterprises of Clearwater, for $1,077,000. The job is 30 percent done and scheduled for completion by Aug. 1, said Ebrahim Maidani, the water department's project manager on the job.

The Eagles work is contracted to Suncoast Development of Pinellas County for $1,725,000, and is to be completed by June, said project manager Kelly Kiner.

Obtaining reclaimed water for your neighborhood isn't easy.

You're out of luck if no major transmission line is within a quarter of a mile, said the county's MacDonald. But if one is, your neighborhood can ask the county whether reclaimed water is feasible for you. The county's feasibility study would estimate the cost per home. A majority of the property owners then can petition the county for service.

The neighborhood, though, could wind up on a waiting list if the supply of reclaimed water isn't enough. That's the current fate of Countryway, with more than 1,500 homes. It won't change until Countryway rises to the top of the list, and the county's volume of reclaimed water can supply 15,000 gallons a month to every house there. Roughly five homes must produce sewage for one home to receive reclaimed water, MacDonald said.

Both Mrs. Dreyfus and Nancy Kamm, president of the Van Dyke Farms Homeowners Association, acknowledged that some of their neighbors probably will water excessively, given unlimited use of reclaimed water.

"By doing that, they're limiting the availability of reclaimed water to other communities that want it," said Mrs. Kamm.

A master gardener, she cautioned that less than an inch of water a week is needed.

If the county can supply reclaimed water for your neighborhood, two waves of construction must occur.

First, the county must install lines through the neighborhood. This is the work under way in the Eagles and Cheval East. Homeowners will have to repay the county through special assessments.

Then homeowners must apply to connect to the irrigation systems. Van Dyke Farms and Westwood Lakes are in this phase.

Mrs. Kamm said 130 people attended a meeting last month for that purpose, depleting the supply of applications.

A completed application creates an account for the homeowner. Then the homeowner is given a purple door hanger, which is the green light to hire an irrigation contractor for the work.

Cheval's Krekorian said his own subdivision of Biarritz is considering seeking bulk bids to have all 92 houses connected at once.

In Van Dyke Farms, the petition drive spawned a huge controversy, partly because some residents had installed irrigation wells, Mrs. Kamm said. But drought years dried some of those wells and quieted some of the opposition, she said.

Now, she said, "I think people are anxious to get it ... Everybody's watching for those purple door hangers."

-- Bill Coats can be reached at (813) 269-5309 or coats@sptimes.com.

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